Cupid’s Understudy Part 3

Chapter Five

Our train left Grand Central Station at two o’clock next afternoon; it was bitter cold, I remember, and I drove to the station, smothered in furs. But our car was wonderfully cozy and comfortable, and it warmed my heart to see how proud Dad was of it: I must inspect the kitchen; this was my stateroom, did I like it? I mustn’t judge Amos by his appearance, but the way he could cook—he was a wonder at making griddle cakes. Did I still like griddle cakes? “And do look at the books and magazines Mr. Porter brought. And a box of chocolates, too. Wasn’t it kind of him?” Dear Dad! He was like a child with a new toy.

I’m sure he enjoyed every minute of the trip. Mr. Porter played cribbage with him (Dad adores cribbage) by the hour; they talked railroads, and politics, and mining—I don’t think Dad had been so happy in years. I know I had never been so happy, for I was sure Mr. Porter loved me. I couldn’t help being sure; his heart was in his eyes every time he looked at me.

When we started from New York, we were Mr. Middleton, and Mr. Porter, and Miss Middleton to one another; at Chicago, it was Tom, and Blakely, and Miss Middleton; I became Elizabeth in Utah (I made him call me that. And when we reached Nevada . . .

It happened so naturally, so sweetly. Dad was taking a nap after luncheon, and Blakely and I were sitting on the rear platform of our car, the last car in the train. It was a heavenly day of blue sky and sunshine; the desert was fresh from recent rain. And then a few, dear, faltered words changed the desert into a garden that reached to the rim of the world.

“I love you. I didn’t mean to tell you quite yet, but I . . . I . . .”

“I know. And it makes me so happy.”

You never saw anybody so delighted as Dad was when we told him. “This makes me glad clear through,” he said. “Blakely, boy, I couldn’t love you more if you were my own son. Elizabeth, girl, come and kiss your old Daddy.”

“And you aren’t surprised, Dad?”

“Not a bit.”

“He’s known I’ve loved you, all along. Haven’t you, Tom?”

“I may have suspected it.”

“But I’m sure he never dreamed I could possibly care for you,” I said. And then, because I was too happy to do anything else, I went to my state-room, and had a good cry.

I have read somewhere that Love would grow old were it not for the tears of happy women.

Chapter Six

When we flew down the grade into California, everything seemed settled; we were going to Santa Barbara where Dad was building a little palace for his Elizabeth as a grand surprise (Blakely’s mother was in Santa Barbara); we would take rooms at the same hotel; I would be presented to Mrs. Porter, and as soon as the palace on the hill was completed—a matter of two or three months—Blakely, and Dad, and I would move into it. Only, first, Blakely and I were going to San Bernardino on our wedding trip.

Wasn’t that sweet of Blakely? When I told him about San Bernardino, and the livery-stable, and the cottage where Dad and I used to live, he said he’d rather spend our honeymoon there than any place in the world. Of course Dad had never sold the cottage, and it was touching to see how pleased he was with our plan.

“You’ll find everything in first-class condition,” he said; “I go there often myself. I built a little house in one corner of the garden for the caretakers. You should see that gold-of-Ophir rose, Elizabeth; it has grown beyond belief.”

When we reached Oakland—where our car had to be switched off and attached to a coast line, train—we found we had four hours to kill, so Dad and Blakely and I (it was Blakely’s idea) caught the boat across to San Francisco.

What do you suppose that dear boy wanted us to go over there for? And where do you suppose he took us? He took us straight to Shreve’s, and he and Dad spent a beautiful two hours in choosing an engagement ring for me. So when we finally landed in Santa Barbara I was wearing a perfect love of a ruby on the third finger of my left hand. I was wearing my heart on my sleeve, too; I didn’t care if all the world saw that I adored Blakely. We arrived in Santa Barbara in the morning, and it was arranged that Blakely should lunch with his mother and devote himself to her during the afternoon, but he was to dine with us in our rooms. Naturally, I had a lot to do, supervising the unpacking of my clothes, and straightening things about in our sitting-room so that it wouldn’t look too hotelish. Then Dad wouldn’t be happy till I’d inspected my new palace on the hill.

It was an alarming looking pile. If anybody but Dad had been responsible for it, I should have said it was hideous. Poor old Dad! He knows absolutely nothing about architecture. But of course I raved over it, and, really, when I came to examine it closer, I found it had its good points. Covered with vines, it would have been actually beautiful. Virginia creeper grows like mad in California and with English ivy and Lady Banksia roses to help out, I was sure I could transform my palace into a perfect. bower in almost no time. I was awfully glad I had seen it first, for now. I could break the bad news gently to Blakely. If I were a man, I couldn’t love a girl who owned such a hideous house.

But I didn’t have a chance to talk house to Blakely for some time. When he came in to dinner that night he looked awfully depressed; he brightened up a lot, though, when he saw me. I had on my most becoming gown, and Dad had ordered a grand dinner, including his own special brand of Burgundy. If Dad knew as much about architecture as he does about wine, they’d insist on his designing all the buildings for the next world’s fair.

All through dinner Blakely wasn’t quite himself—I could see it; I think Dad saw it, too-but I knew he would tell us what was the matter as soon as he had an opportunity. One, of the sweetest things about Blakely is his perfect frankness. I couldn’t love a man who wasn’t frank with me. That is, I suppose I could, but I should hate to; it would break my heart. Well, after dinner, when Dad had lighted his cigar, and Blakely his cigarette, it all came out.

“Tom!”

“Yes, my boy.” (I think Dad loved to hear Blakely say Tom almost as much as I loved to hear him say Elizabeth.)

“Tom, I’ve got you and Elizabeth into a deuce of an unpleasant position. I’ve told you what a fine woman my mother is, and how she’d welcome Elizabeth with open arms, and now I find I was all wrong. My mother isn’t a fine woman; she’s an ancestor-worshiping, heartless, selfish snob. I’m ashamed of her, Tom. She refuses to meet Elizabeth.”

Chapter Seven

I never was so sorry for anybody in my whole life as I was for Blakely; I would have done anything to have saved him the bitterness and humiliation of that moment. As for Dad, he couldn’t understand it at all. That Blakely’s mother should refuse to meet his Elizabeth was quite beyond his comprehension.

“This is very strange,” he said, “very strange. There must be some mistake. Why shouldn’t she meet Elizabeth?”

“There is no reason in the world,” Blakely answered.

“Then why—?”

“She probably has other plans for her son, Daddy dear,” I said. “And no doubt she has heard that we’re fearfully vulgar.”

“Well, we ain’t,” said Dad in a relieved voice; “and as for those plans of hers, I reckon she’ll have to outgrow them. Buck up, my boy! One look at Elizabeth will show her she’s mistaken”

“You don’t know my mother,” Blakely replied; “I feel that I haven’t known her till now. It’s out of the question, our staying here after what has happened. Let’s go up to Del Monte, and let’s not wait four months for the wedding. Why can’t we be married this week? I’m done with my mother and with the whole tribe of Porters; they’re not my kind, and you and Elizabeth are.”

“Tom, I never felt, that I had a father till I found you. Elizabeth, girl, I never knew what happiness was till you told me you loved me. My mother says she would never consent to her son’s marrying the daughter of a man who has kept a livery-stable. I say that I’m done with a family that made its money out of whisky. My mother’s father was a distiller, her grandfather was a distiller, and if there’s any shame, it’s mine, for by all the standards of decency, a livery- stable is a hundred times more respectable than a warehouse full of whisky. You made your money honestly, but ours has been wrung out of the poor, the sick, the ragged, the distressed. The whisky business is a rotten business, Tom, rotten!”

“It was whisky that bought an ambassadorship for my mother’s brother; it was whisky that paid for the French count my sister married; it was whisky that sent me to college. Whisky, whisky- always whisky!”

“I never thought twice about it before, but I’ve done some tall thinking today. I’m done with the Porters, root and branch. Elizabeth and I are going to start a little family tree, of our own, and we’re not going to root it in a whisky barrel, either. We’re— we’re—”

“There, there!” said Dad. “It’s all right, Blakely, boy. It ain’t so bad as you think. You ain’t going to throw your mother over and your mother ain’t going to throw you over. I take it that all mothers are alike; they love their sons. Naturally, you’re sore and disappointed now, but I reckon that mother of yours is sore and disappointed, too. As for our going to Del Monte, I never heard of a Middleton yet that cut and ran at a time like this, and Elizabeth and I ain’t going to start any precedent.”

“No, my boy, we’re going to stay right here, and you’re going to stay here with us. There’s lots of good times ahead for you and Elizabeth, and in the meantime, I want you to be mighty sweet to that mother of yours. She’s the only mother you’ve got, boy. You don’t know what it means for us old folks to be disappointed in our children. Now, don’t disappoint me, lad. You be nice to that mother of yours, and keep on loving Elizabeth, and it will all come right, you see if it don’t. If it don’t come one way, it will come another; you can take my word for it.” As if Dad knew anything about it. He thought then that every woman possessed a sweet mind and a loving heart; he thinks so now. But one glimpse of Blakely’s mother was enough for me. She had a heart of stone; everything about her was militant, uncompromising; her eyes were of a piercing, steely blue; the gowns she wore were insolently elegant; she radiated a superb self-satisfaction. When she looked at you through her lorgnette, you felt as if you were on trial for your life. When she ceased looking, you knew you were sentenced to mount the social scaffold. If it hadn’t been for Blakely and Dad, I should have died of rage during the first two weeks of our stay in Santa Barbara.

It was a cruel position for me, and it didn’t make it easier that before we had been there three days the whole hotel was talking about it. Of course, every woman in the hotel who had been snubbed by Blakely’s mother instantly took my part, and as there were only two women who hadn’t been snubbed by her—Mrs. Tudor Carstairs and Mrs. Sanderson-Spear—I was simply overwhelmed with unsolicited advice and undesirable attention. Indeed, it was all I could do to steer a dignified course between that uncompromising Scylla, Blakely’s mother, and the compromising Charybdis of my self-elected champions. But I managed it, somehow. Dad bought me a stunning big automobile in Los Angeles, and Blakely taught me how to run it; then, Blakely was awfully fond of golf; and we spent loads of time at the Country Club. And of course there was the palace on the hill to be inspected every little while.

Poor Blakely! How he did hate it all! Again and again he begged Dad to give his consent to our marrying at once. But Dad, as unconscious of what was going on round him as a two-months-old baby, would always insist that everything would come out all right.

“Give her time, my boy,” he would say, “give her time. Your mother isn’t used to our Western way of rushing things, and she wants a little time to get used to it.”

“What if she never gets used to it?” Blakely would ask.

Then Dad would answer: “You’re impatient, boy; all lovers are impatient. Don’t I know?”

“But things can’t go on this way forever.”

“Of course they can’t,” Dad would agree. “When I think things have gone long enough, I’ll have a little talk with your mother myself. She’s a dashed fine-looking woman, your mother—a dashed fine- looking woman! Be patient with her, boy.”

Poor Dad! Blakely and I were resolved that he should never have that little talk he spoke of with so much confidence. Ideals are awfully in the way sometimes, but nobody with a speck of decency can bear to stand by and see them destroyed. Dad’s deals had to be preserved at any price.

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